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Moments
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THRESHOLD
MOMENTS

At Oliver Wyman, we take on challenges for our clients that require fresh perspectives and creative thinking. Often, we have to apply those perspectives to our own decisions — such as when our roles change sometimes in response to changes in our own lives. Here is what some of our colleagues have to say about navigating the inflection points that come with the work we do.


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Aarti Nihalani Mumbai
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Liza Shakhnovich New York
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Hanna Moukanas Paris
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Ben Balzar Singapore
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Axel Miller Munich
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Amy Richards New York
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Brandi Greene New York
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Kristrun Gunnarsdottir Stockholm
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Andrea Steverding Munich

Having The Answers

I managed a significant project for an Indian financial services regulator. When the Chairman of the regulator saw our recommendations, he was very impressed, and asked if we could present our work to the Finance Minister. The meeting with the Minister was a monumental one for me. I remember waiting for the meeting, outside the Minister’s office, in the Secretariat. Just being in that place is enough to give one goosebumps! Although I wasn’t presenting, I ended up having an important role. No one expected people at that high a level to be interested in the details. But they asked detailed questions about where our ideas came from and what the challenges will be for implementation, and I was able to help answer. I realized the kind of impact I can create, even with fairly simple recommendations. It really reinforced to me the ability Oliver Wyman has to drive change on such a large scale, and deliver true impact for the industry’s development.

GROWING IN THE JOB

In 2010, I made the decision to leave science. I began interviewing for jobs three months after I had given birth to my daughter. The first time I was away from her was my final round interview with Oliver Wyman. I knew I couldn’t be getting on a plane for four days a week. When I asked how they could help, they said, “We don’t know exactly, but here are all of the resources we have, and we will commit to helping you make this work.” They put me in touch with Helen Leis, a partner who had young twins, and we had a great conversation about her experience. I started with Oliver Wyman in 2011, and the practice has been amazingly supportive in helping me be successful as a working mom.

Later, as a brand new Engagement Manager, I was asked to run a very important project, in a space I wasn’t familiar with. I had lots of help but it was a tough experience. As the project was coming to an end, I started to realize that the partners trusted my work and that the client was happy. I had done it and done it well. One of the things that is so unique and fantastic about this job is that every three or six months you’re doing things that you know you couldn’t have done before, and you can look back and see your growth.

Focusing on people

As a young consultant in my third year or so, I was presenting with a senior partner to a CEO in the process industry a proposal to model the performance of all of their manufacturing sites. I had never been in a meeting with a client where they were approving a proposal, and I was scared to death of the reaction of the client. To my great surprise, the client looked at the page, nodded his head, and gave his approval to proceed. The senior partner had a great relationship with the CEO, and the CEO trusted him. This was a trigger moment that showed me how important solid content combined with strong relationships is. My relationships with people, including current and future clients, are imperative for me to be able to deliver great work. This moment led me to the realization that if I wanted to stay in this industry, I had to change my focus; I had to learn how to manage people, especially clients and other consultants. The content is only there to help you serve and deliver best value. It’s not an end in itself.

Taking The Chance

I had just reached the Engagement Manager level when my wife and I started contemplating our life plan. Did we want to stay in London? Why not move somewhere else and give it a shot? We looked at a map and found that the only place where her job and mine overlapped was Singapore. The partners in my practice and colleagues in our Singapore office all had the same refrain: It won’t be easy. The corporate finance practice in Singapore was not as mature as the practice in London, and I would have to find my own clients. They also told me it would be a lot of fun, if I was up for the challenge.

They were right. It was difficult, but also very rewarding. It pushed me to a step change in my career, from executing projects to building the foundation for a practice. I was knocking on doors and fighting hard to win projects. I learned to be very relationship-oriented, and how to manage different projects. My original transfer was for two years, but I decided to extend it for another two. My marketing efforts started to pay off. We have a lot of traction, a good client base, and our pipeline is developing. I’m enjoying Asia, and my experience has very much exceeded my expectations.

Focusing on what’s important

I got caught in an avalanche while skiing several years ago. One friend of mine died in the accident, another survived with heavy injuries, and I got out with bruises only. It made me realize how fragile life is. I reflect on that lesson often, and whilst it has not fundamentally changed my life, it created another level of sensitivity on what is important to me in life. As a result I did not de-prioritize work — quite the contrary — but I was the first consultant in Germany to work an 80% schedule. Back then, before it became commonplace at the firm, we decided to give it a try for six months to see if it worked. I did it for four years. The avalanche created another level of sensitivity about how quickly it can all end, and focuses me on the important things in life. Sometimes that’s family, sometimes that is time for myself in the mountains, and sometimes it is work. I feel like my work really makes a difference, and if I spend 14 hours in the office on something that I like that really makes a difference, it’s worth it. It’s a different way to look at things.

Navigating Cultures

You have to know what you want personally and be true to that. Strong guideposts and values put you in the position to navigate the course you want through all parts of your life (be that at work or elsewhere). I’ve had an incredible diversity of experience with Oliver Wyman, which is what I’ve always looked for in my career. Before I started working, the firm agreed that I could postpone my start to realize a long-held ambition of sailing across the Atlantic (which I did a second time last year). Subsequently, I’ve worked in eighteen different countries in the course of my career — and visited many more, including during a six-month sabbatical I was able to take as part of our FlexOW program, when I travelled through South America and Asia. Our ability to bring an international perspective to local issues with a global impact is critical, and supporting strategic moves of our people around the globe is a key part of that. The international experiences Oliver Wyman helped me gain are incredibly valuable to me as every week I find myself consulted on proposals that make sense in one culture but would never be successful in another!

Making It Happen

About three years after I joined Oliver Wyman, I was looking to transition out of Office Services and found that many of the Support roles I was interested in were being filled by consultants, leaving very few opportunities to advance. I shared my frustration with a senior manager who had transitioned into a Support role herself, and she told me this: Consultants create the roles they want. If they see a gap, they highlight it and make the case for filling it with the explicit goals of adding value to the firm and creating their own career path. That was a true a-ha moment that changed my whole career trajectory here. Shortly after our conversation, I reached out to a Human Capital team that was in flux, demonstrated how I could help, and secured a new role. In my experience, proactively creating opportunity is the best way to move ahead at Oliver Wyman. Thankfully, I had a number of sponsors who were honest about my strengths and weaknesses, committed to my development, and comfortable taking risks to position me for success here. Through these relationships, I’ve come to believe that Oliver Wyman can be a great place to work for anyone.

Adapting to Change

Two years into my time at Oliver Wyman, I wanted to do an externship. I had studied development economics and had always wanted to be involved in a volunteer effort, but I felt I didn’t have any special skills to contribute. As I gained capabilities through my time at Oliver Wyman, I realized I now had something unique to offer. I spent six months working on a mobile banking project for Kiva (an organization that provides 0% interest rate micro financing) in Kenya, applying the knowledge I had acquired from my work with risk management and strategy at European banks. The work I did for Kiva changed my outlook. It was quite challenging to come back to work. It felt like nothing had changed but me! But after a little while, I realized that I could work to make the changes I wanted. I had gained new perspectives and learned a lot about different ways of thinking. I started working on pulling levers to effect change for myself, being more persistent in working in a way that aligns with my values and preferences to maximize impact.

Challenging my assumptions

I am driven to do the best that I possibly can, which can challenge work-life balance. A few years ago, I realized I had been working day and night for a very long time, and at our office summer party, a colleague and I were talking about it. He explained that I was the reason for this problem and that only I could manage it. I remember that day clearly. We were sitting at the edge of a lake, and I had never worked with the colleague before. But it felt like heaven had just opened up above me. It dawned on me that I have to change something if I want to be successful in the long term. Since then I’ve changed how I manage workload and negotiate unrealistic wish lists and timelines. I probably have not fully cracked my work-life balance case yet. But I have learned that change starts with yourself — and a surprising approach.